A battle must be fair in every aspect. But our fight against COVID-19 is not so. The last two months have been more than a terrific nightmare. The pandemic has hit the world hard physically, financially and emotionally. And the dire situation is only to grow worse. But the lack of equipment to treat the virus worsens the situation. It is like we are fighting a war against this deadly monster without enough bow and arrows to attack it. There are more than 10 lakh active cases reported around the world. But the most essential medical supplies like ventilators, masks, sanitizers, ICU wards, etc are not sufficient to meet the growing numbers.
A few months ago we were busy advance-booking for movies or the latest iPhone or the new range of Tesla cars. But now every country is trying hard to place orders for medical essentials in a view to meet their demand. So how are the countries managing the situation? Will it suffice the unending demand?
Hunt for medical equipment and gear
Medical gears are our weapons in the battle against COVID-19. A ventilator is used when a patient has severe breathing problems and there is a high possibility of lung failure. One in every six patients who are affected by the Corona Virus will require the support of a ventilator. In the absence of it, the patient could lose his or her life in a matter of a few hours. Countries like the USA and Italy have pioneered in health care. But today Italy faces an unfortunate turn of events where it is forced to choose between its patients. The country is facing a severe shortage of ventilators and has placed an order for over 5000 ventilators. Germany, following it, has ordered 10,000 ventilators. And the UK prime minister held a meeting with the manufacturers to find a solution to this situation.
Secondly, the beds to patient ratio is also extremely unequal. For instance, there are 6 patients waiting for every bed that is being occupied in the USA. Following this US is planning on turning railway berths into beds for catering the needs of the sick patients. China had to put up 2000+ beds in order to meet the demand. Doctors and nurses are also available in low numbers. The US has eased the visa formalities for doctors amidst Coronavirus. Doctors are pressured with more than 18 shifts a week to attend the increasing cases.
Adding to this a few local drugs, medical gears and hand sanitizers have seen an upswing in supply. The nurses and doctors around the world are in danger of getting infected as there is a shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE). Italy has lost 50 doctors and the US lost about 1000 due to lack of protective gear. A China-based manufacturing company has increased its production of N-95 masks to 60,000 on a daily basis to meet demand. The US eased the tariffs on these medical gears and equipment in order to take the situation.
What is causing the hiccup?
In an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 many countries around the world like Italy, India, America and China had closed their borders. Further, there is a nation-wide lockdown around various parts of the world putting the manufacture and export of the medical essentials to a halt. Suppliers also blame the ban on commercial airlines as one of the major reasons. All these have strongly disrupted the supply chain. For example, a company which assembles ventilators in India has to wait for its components which had to arrive from Europe and China. Masks are manufactured in countries like China, Taiwan and Korea. The medical gears had to clear various custom duties. So by the time it reaches another country, a lot of people's lives are at stake. Further, the cost involved is also a major concern for under-developed countries.
Limited production is also a major problem. Companies hardly produce 1000- 5000 ventilators a year. But now the manufactures are under pressure to increase their production by more than 50%. The swiss-based company, Hamilton Medical which produces 1500 ventilators a year has now decided to increase its production by 40% to meet with the piling orders. According to WHO estimates the demand for medical masks has touched 89 million all around the world. Manufacturers claim that they are printing masks like that of dollar notes.
How is India coping up
India has approximately 50,000 ventilators in its possession right now which suffices the needs to a certain extent. However, a recent study states that a constant rise may get the number of active cases to 1 million by July. In such a case India’s situation will be worse than that of Italy and the USA. That is why the government is taking every step to break that chain and stock up the ventilators. But the lockdown has severely hit India as well. Because Indian ventilator manufacturers solely depend upon countries like Europe and Japan for components are major parts that go into the ventilators. Even tiny components are produced outside of India. Hence, the government has asked the help of big companies in the manufacture of these units. Earlier, you will need a license to manufacture medical equipment. But now, the government has stated that no such license will be required. It has also eased the regulations on the production of such equipment in a view to meet the temporary demand.
Further India banned the export of masks and other medical gears. It continuously monitors the manufacture of sanitizers and masks in order to control the price rise and their availability. Various NGO's have also offered help to India. Further, Indian governments are taking the help of prisoners as well to manufacture masks. Like the US it has converted Railway berths into places for treating patients. It also offered insurance to its doctors.
The helping hand from the corporate
The big corporates have come for the rescue as well. Along with the provision of necessary funds, they have also shown interest to aid the manufacture of ventilators and other medical equipment. Companies like Tata Motors, M&M, Reliance, Maruti Suzuki are working closely with the government in order to ramp up production. In the US, car companies have shown interest as well. They are taking every possible step to increase the scale of production. Foxconn, a phone-based production house, has now started to make masks. One of the biggest manufacturers, Medtronic claimed that it will make its ventilator designs public. These are quite a few. There are many to add on to this list.
But all this will not serve if the affected cases are going to be on a steady rise. The only solution is to decrease the spread which is not possible without the support of individuals like you and me. So, take every measure possible to stay safe and let's hope for a possible cure. And most importantly co-operate with the government.